Brave and Courageous

By Dave Woodhall.

It was the incomparable character of Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister who introduced us to the idea that the best way of criticising a poor decision was to describe it as “brave”. He’d have loved the developments on Sunday when news started to break that Alex McLeish had resigned as Blues manager and his appointment as new Villa boss was imminent.

At first it just wasn’t believed – things like that just don’t happen. Then the story gathered credence, with the Mail running it and various news sources in general agreement that it was more than likely. As things stand there’s a very good chance that before much longer Alex McLeish will become Villa manager. The question is, why?

There’s no doubt that for McLeish this is a major step up. He’s leaving a club in the Championship for one which, even in a bad season, finished in the top half of the Premier League. He will have money to spend and a board who know where their next penny is coming from.

For Villa, though, McLeish would be a major gamble. When Gerard Houllier left a successor was assumed to be waiting in the wings. After all, Villa seemed to go to some considerable trouble to get rid of the Frenchman, so surely a much better replacement was imminent. Carlos Ancelotti, maybe. David Moyes, Mark Hughes or Rafa Benitez. One by one, all were ruled out. Still we waited for the sort of leftfield appointment that would confound the critics and leave the media fuming that they hadn’t spotted the new appointment before it was made. Franz Rijkaard, Louis van Gaal, even Fabio Capello. Just as long as it wasn’t Steve McClaren.

Instead (and as I keep saying, if the stories are to be believed) it could be a manager who achieved the difficult feat of both his club’s greatest-ever achievement and relegation in the same season. A manager whose negative style of play and poor transfer record drew widespread criticism, not least in these pages, where there were calls for his dismissal after Blues went down.

Before that McLeish had been reasonably successful in Scotland, winning the league title twice with Rangers (not too difficult a task) and doing as well with the national side as any other modern-day manager. His is not a record that would normally attract a club with Champions League aspirations.

The fact that McLeish would be arriving from across the city is also of enormous concern. Personally, I’m not too fussed where Villa lure a manager from as long as he’s the right one. It would, though, be wrong to say that coming from St Andrews wouldn’t put many Villa supporters off the idea. In fact, the word ‘meltdown’ has been used to describe reaction to the potential appointment. McLeish would have to do an awful lot to win over the more vocal elements of the Villa Park crowd; one of the reasons why Houllier wasn’t popular was his association with Liverpool and such animosity would be multiplied many-fold towards a man who came direct from St Andrews.

On the face of it I can’t understand why Randy Lerner, a man who since he took over as Villa’s owner has shown an almost telepathic understanding of supporter feelings, would make such a dramatic appointment. He has built up an enormous amount of goodwill and despite the setbacks of the past nine months remains massively popular amongst supporters. The appointment of Alex McLeish would risk all that and should it fail, Randy would find himself facing the sort of bitter criticism which hounded Doug Ellis. It’s would be a brave decision, alright. The bravest since the Villa team told the Germans to stick their Nazi salute in 1938.

And now I’m reading that David Moyes is ready to resign as Everton manager and Villa are having second thoughts about taking on Alex McLeish. Time for a lie down.